Monday, February 13, 2006

A Crisis of Courage

John Peter Altgeld, governor of Illinois from 1892 to 1896, once said, "No man's ambition has a right to stand in the way of performing a simple act of justice." Governor Altgeld was true to his words. He sacrificed his political career by pardoning the labor leaders who were wrongly convicted of the Haymarket Bombing.

Politicians today are too self-interested to protect the integrity of our democracy. We have waited far too long for substantive ethical regulations, robust campaign finance reforms, or even redistricting plans that give voters actual options.

All of this is indicative of a political culture lacking courage.

We are the next generation of leaders. Will we be true to the principles of John Peter Altgeld or will we continue to pollute our political process with mediocrity?

Our University is dedicated to the principle of shared governance. Faculty and students take part in the hiring of high ranking administrators and the crafting of University policy. As Student Senate President, I've had the privilege of serving on numerous campus advisory committees. I have noticed that very few students are willing to speak up and criticize the administration.

Some students fear they will "get in trouble" for criticizing the administration, which is unfortunate, untrue, and something the University should fervently deny. Others fear that heated disagreement with administrators will cost them a valuable recommendation letters, so they shamefully sell out their constituency.

For student input to mean anything at all, when we are called upon we must be bold and candid.

Students across campus can not sit back and hope they will be asked to weigh in. The overwhelming majority of faculty members and administrators enjoy students and value their opinions. In some cases students need to stand up to hostile and aggressive individuals who seek to silence student input.

Currently, one student-loathing zealot sits with me on the Senate Committee on Student Discipline. He recently said he sees no value in having students serve on our committee. This is a committee that crafts discipline procedures and hears student appeals prior to their dismissal. We must be vigilant in asserting the importance of having our voices heard.

Some administrators also try to insulate themselves from dissent. Former Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Patricia Askew was so afraid of criticism that she staffed various advisory committees with Turner Fellows, students employed by her office. It doesn't take an independent advisory committee to tell this is a clear conflict of interest.

We have made some progress in just the last year. Chancellor Herman has created a panel of students he is meeting with on a monthly basis. Our next Provost told me she intended to actively reach out to students by meeting regularly with groups of students. I believe the interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs has ended the policy of including student employees on his advisory committees.

Today I am proud to be writing for the Daily Illini because of the bold decision made by editor in chief Acton Gorton last week to run cartoons few other papers in the nation would run. College newspapers have a great obligation to present extreme perspectives so they can be rigorously scrutinized in academic communities.

Some have suggested that Mr. Gorton should lose his job. If he is fired, this will be my last column. This is a matter of principle, and his actions do not warrant his termination. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Gorton's decision, it is hard to deny that his actions took courage.

As you walk through the Quad today, pause for just a moment in front of Altgeld Hall. Measure your own will by reflecting on Governor Altgeld's legacy. Remember the words of Justice Earl Warren, "Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for." Ask yourself, what are you willing to catch hell for?

Published in the Daily Illini on February 13, 2006.

41 Comments:

Anonymous john bambenek said...

I'm disappointed you didn't run with the phrases I gave you... ;)

10:46 PM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

what were those again ;-)

11:03 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

So, Josh, for those of us who don't know the makeup of the committee, who is this student-loathing zealot?

There are mornings when I get up wishing for someone, anyone just to have some guts. I think that I'm not the only one.

Part of the success of comedians like Carlos Mencia and David Chappelle now and the now-immortal Richard Pryor was their ability to use their eloquence to get to the heart of the matter, even if it was uncomfortable.

I miss that in politics. I'll put in the link to the AC article about George McGovern if it's still good:

http://www.amconmag.com/2006/2006_01_30/article.html

Now, there was a guy with some real character. Note, however, that he lost.

Here's a link to the obit of possibly the greatest philosopher I've known...you can do worse than to emulate him:

http://www.lp.org/lpn/9406-Hess.html

And a song by another friend:

Dangerous Heroes
Words and Music by Michael Longcor
Copyright ©1995 by Firebird Arts & Music/BMI.
Used by permission.

I was conceived in San Antonio, A gunshot from the Alamo
I knew the good guys wore white hats and heroes didn't cry
At nine I got a boy scout knife, At ten I nearly lost my life
Finding out that bicycles just don't fly.

All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
Superman and Peter Pan and Maverick and Roy,
All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
Dangerous heroes for a dangerous boy
Dangerous heroes play with dangerous toys

Grew up with paranoia in the schools of Indiana
But I knew that right was might and heroes didn't need the brawn
Fat kids had no playground rights. Slow kids had to learn to fight
I thought that ugly ducklings always turned to swans

All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
Zorro and Geronimo, The Shadow and James Bond
All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
Dangerous heroes sing a dangerous song
Dangerous heroes were my heroes too long

Break
Batman and The Rifleman, Tarzan and Jack Nicholson
Robin Hood and Daniel Boone, the Duke and Sgt. Rock
Popeye and the FBI, Tonto and the other guy
Humphrey Bogart, Cyrano and Davy Crockett

The frontier's all inside me now, I'd like to travel back somehow
When bad guys all fought dirty but the hero always won
The villains could be vilified, devils were identified
And angels all spoke softly but had faster guns

All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
Conan, and D'Artagnan and Kit Carson and Bruce Lee
All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
Dangerous heroes made a dangerous me
Dangerous heroes let me think I was free

All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
All of my life I've had dangerous heroes
Dangerous heroes let me think I was free
Dangerous heroes were my heroes too long
Dangerous heroes made a dangerous me
Dangerous heroes sing a dangerous song



In any case, if you want to make a difference in the world, figure out what's right, then do it without regard to the sacrifices it may make you endure.

Tom

8:38 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Tom - that was such an outstanding post. I'll tell you in person who I'm talking about - trying to avoid libel and all. Most of the faculty members are the committee are very thoughtful and reasonable people, there is one guy though who really seems to hate students, by all indications.

I think Brian said friday is his best day for lunch. Are you around then?

You might want to send Acton Gorton a note. This whole ordeal had to be trying for him. That took courage.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous tc said...

Josh, email me Acton's email address, please, it's not in the student directory.

Tom

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Diogenes said...

The Athenians said that courage led to freedom. And freedom led to happiness.

You're right. Its courage that is needed now.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

let's burn down more bridges with the faculty! BURN THEM ALL DOWN IN THE NAME OF COURAGE! Then we can really start getting things accomplished.

2:44 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Anon-

The guy I went after in my column was never, ever, ever going to do anything to help students. You dont have to take my word for it, ask Ruzic, or Colin Bishop or John Yu. This guy really hates students, he doesn't think we should have any role at all in the process. He's a preposterous figure.

If i would have included his name it could have done damange with other facutly members, but I consulted with several facutly members who know the situation before saying what I said. I stand by those remarks - and I'm willing to put my name on my comments - it'd be nice if you'd do the same. I'd love to hear what you've actually gotten accomplished, and I'd be happy to put my own record up against yours. That's hard to do when you cower in the shadows of anonymity.

I did stress in my column: "The overwhelming majority of faculty members and administrators enjoy students and value their opinions."

9:33 AM  
Anonymous margot said...

sent this to the DI, but as they likely won't publish it and you were so keen on me responding to your damn blog it seems a waste for you to miss it:

In defense of DI Editor in Chief Acton Gordon's decision to run the infamous Jyllands-Posten cartoons without consulting the editorial board, guest columnist Josh Rohrscheib claims "it is hard to deny that his actions took courage" ("A Crisis of Courage" 2/13/06). Perhaps the decision would have taken courage if the DI were published in a country where legal restrictions or cultural repression made Gordon's actions even remotely risky. But please, don't be fooled by the way he and his defenders are wrapping themselves in the Bill of Rights and self-congratulatory bombast. The First Amendment isn't meant to protect them from the ire of private citizens, including the un-consulted members of the editorial board.

Gordon's defenders seem to imagine some patriotic national storehouse of free speech that they contribute to every time they publish "offensive" content. If this were a case of bravely defying a repressive power, Gordon could have asked the other college-age journalists on the editorial board to muster the courage of their convictions and collaborate on the most responsible way to present the cartoons. I suspect that Gordon knew that the members of the editorial board would agree with the vast majority of professional newspaper organizations in this country that decided not to publish the cartoons. Publishing the cartoons was unnecessary and inflammatory. Gordon unilaterally decided to stage a sophomoric publicity stunt he knew the editorial board would not endorse. If he is fired, it will not be because of his courage, but his arrogance. Do not let him or Rohrscheib, who promises to discontinue his column on principle if Gordon is dismissed, posture as "courageous" martyrs to some imagined opponents of free expression. They are so eager to pose as rebels, they demean the freedoms they invoke.

------------------------------------
That said, I do think you'd do well to find a cause that's actually worth some legitimate self-sacrifice. You must be sick of just playing rebel by now.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

Margot, I think that you're being a bit harsh here.

I agree that Josh sometimes heads off in the direction of James Dean in "Rebel Without a Clue," but we've got a situation here where enemies of freedom are threatening to kill people who behave differently then they dictate.

This sort of thing is intolerable and ultimately stifling in a free society. It is more important here than in Europe because Europeans, by and large, do not have the same legal press freedoms as far as political speech as we do in the US. Even Switzerland, voted number one by Reporters Without Borders has a statue forbidding newspaper stories ridiculing Christianity. The last big case involving this was prosecuted in 1971, I believe.

Last week, a Northwestern University Engineering professor denied the Holocaust happened. Here, he was ridiculed in public. In Germany, he would have been arrested. Hell, the Germans even said that they'd arrest Brits who gave the Nazi salute during the World Cup matches.

Acton did something that could get himself killed. Whether or not it is going to be meaningful politically for him to have published the cartoons won't be known for a long time. However, I have to admire him for being willing to lay down his life for press freedom in America.

To me, the best thing that could possibly happen in America would be for Hot Topic to put the cartoons on T-shirts and for millions of Americans to wear them around on a regular basis.

NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO TELL ME WHAT TO SAY IN THE REALM OF POLITICS.

We fought for this right in the 60s and I am damned if I'll give it up for anyone on any side of the political spectrum, whether it be Rush Limbaugh ridiculing me, a radical feminist angry because I'm not Politically Correct, or an imam threatening me with death.

They'll get my mouth when they pry it off my cold, dead face.

Tom

12:36 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Margot: hear, hear! Couldn't have said it better myself.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

Brian, the larger question here is this:

"Does any religion have the right, in a Western Nation that claims to have Freedom of Speech and Religion, to prevent me from doing something that is against its tenets?"

I would object equally strongly to a group of radical Jews threatening me with death for not separating dairy and meat or a radical Catholic threatening me with the rack for eating meat on Friday.

It does not matter--YOUR RELIGIOUS LAWS DO NOT APPLY TO ME AND I WILL BREAK THEM AT MY LEISURE.

Anything less than a rebellion against religious fascism is tantamount to surrender of one's ideals.

After all, it's hard enough to get me to obey the laws of men, without getting into the argument of whose religion is correct, which is a question that has to be answered in order to know which religious laws one has to obey.

Tom

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

Margot's post again sidesteps the issue entirely by assuming the main point. Margot, substantiate this claim, and your argument might have some merit:

"Publishing the cartoons was unnecessary and inflammatory."

Now, you might have a point in a very general sense, that publishing cartoons did not solve the world's problems, and thus, was unnecessary.

I would point out that printing any news, then, is unnecessary. So clearly that isn't a helpful definition.

However, if the DI strives to print relevant news, the cartoons themselves surely qualify. People are rioting and threatening over their original publication. By not showing the cartoons, media outlets are not reporting the whole story. The reader is rightly entitled to inquire about just what has individuals so upset.

Could the DI have referred them to a link? Yes. However, the DI could do this with 50-60% of its commentary anyways. Should it print one page everyday, with the link www.cnn.com? Of course not.

Whether or not something is inflammatory seems like a silly standard to apply to a paper. The DI has written literally dozens of editorials that have pissed me off. I suspect others feel this way too. Where was its sense of compassion then?

Of course, to censor itself in order to avoid offending others is inappropriate for newspapers. I'm sure a great many don't like hearing about the riots themselves, that they find those things offensive. Should the DI refuse to report them?

What anti-cartoonists seem to be arguing is that journalists have some sort of "moral responsibility" clause in their employment contracts. Maybe they do, but I doubt it (and if they do, anti-cartoonists should pursue the argument on contract interpretation grounds). In fact, journalists consistently print things others find objectionable, distasteful, and yes, offensive. Why has the standard changed here?

As others in the blogosphere have pondered, maybe we're sending the wrong incentives. It seems the sensitivity police have been wheeled out to protect the feelings of a group that includes individuals who riot, threaten, and create violence. In other words, this "compassionate" treatment is rewarding this kind of behavior (would there be a protest about the DI's actions if no one was rioting? It's a good question). And of course, if you reward a certain kind of behavior, you're going to get more of it.

It's an interesting take on this issue. But surely, if others seek to attack the publication of the cartoons, they'll have to find other arguments than the ones posited so far because

1) They are newsworthy

2) Newspapers print offensive material all the time

Find something better to hang your hat on.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous margot said...

Tom,

I agree with you that threatening to kill people because they've insulted your beliefs is unacceptable. I don't agree that insulting people's beliefs just to get them to threaten you is wise or responsible.

Risking your life for a cause can be noble. Risking your life because you're a bored midwestern college student who wants to start a fuss is obnoxious.

My argument is not at all that Acton shouldn't have published the cartoon because people might want to hurt him. My argument is that there was no good reason to publish the cartoons, and it was particularly irresponsible for him to do so without consulting the editorial board.

I think your claims that Acton risked his life are over the top, but if he really did "risk his life" then there's even more cause to be upset because he put the saftey of other people associated with the DI at risk without consulting them.

The actual visual cartoons were irrelevant to this story. The real story in this case is, as you note, the struggle over the right to expression in countries that don't have the same protections as the U.S. particularly now that those countries are home to people with divergent belief systems and transnational communication and travel is so much easier. U.S. law is set up to handle pluralism much better than many European countries' laws.

And because of the same protections, Acton's little stunt wasn't actually a noble risk. Acton didn't lay his life on the line for press freedom. We HAVE press freedom. He just used it irresponsibly.

I'm not asking you or him or anyone else to obey anyone else's religious laws. I'm not defending the people who do. But the martyr rhetoric is so tired, and just invests the extremists' threats with more power. To my knowledge, none of the muslims in this country have hurt any of the people distributing the cartoon. And no institutions with any power over your life are silencing or threatening to silence Acton or Josh or you. So you can all stop feeling so freaking oppressed now.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous margot said...

Reed,

The story is newsworthy. That doesn't mean the cartoons are. Almost every U.S. paper chose not to publish them because I think ultimately, they don't contribute to the story any more than a one-line description of them. Perhaps less, because without an explanation the cartoons themselves are virtually meaningless. It's possible, but I think unlikely, that the editorial staff at the DI would have decided the cartoons were worth printing.

I'm not personally offended, or against the publication of offensive material when justified.

I don't know what standard you think has changed. The cartoon itself doesn't meet my standards of newsworthiness and if Gordon thought it was, he should have made his case to the editorial board.

p.s. I'm not wearing a hat.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

Margot, I can see your points. (I think that the ad hominem attacks on Acton are unwarranted, however, and are beneath you. I am sure that you are more than capable of addressing issues using logical and supportable arguments.)

I think that it is possible that the reason that there's been no attacks in America is because with the exception of the Philadelphia Enquirer and the DI, very few newspapers have dared to print the cartoons.

Be that as it may, I think that part of the problem in Europe is that the generation there that is the same age as those of you on the DI Staff are finding themselves isolated from both the culture of the main country and the culture of their parents, who are often much more moderate.

Look at the French situation--the parents and grandparents were the survivors of those who were on the French side during the Algerian rebellion. They came to France, and those who remained behind died. The elder generations were dedicated to the French way of life, assimilated and, by and large, knew that they were better off than in Algeria. This is definitely not true for the youth, and is demonstrated in anger.

I don't believe that there is that kind of divide in America between the generations that can be exploited by radicals.

Now, as far as being oppressed goes, I have to say that I am perfectly capable of being overzealous of my defense of liberty (something that Karl Hess said was a virtue in one of the speeches he wrote for Barry Goldwater.) I won't apologize for that, now or ever.

Remember that there's one benefit to overcaution in protecting one's self--if you are wrong, you are no worse off and if you are right, you probably will come through the whole thing with your life and liberty intact. I think that part of the reason that I'm not oppressed is because I am willing to immediately take out anyone, either figuratively or literally (in a desperate situation,) who has a chance of successfully removing the rights that I have.

In any case, I hope that we can agree to disagree on this subject. It will be very interesting to see what happens now. There was a rally on the Quad over lunch, but I was pretending to work, so I didn't get there to see what happened. Perhaps someone who attended could let us know what transpired.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

Margot,

The fact that other news organizations have not published them is meaningless trivia. A news item does not gain its substance merely from being a news item.

I argue that while the cartoons could be described, it's more informative to print them as well. Do you disagree?

If it is more informative to print them as well, then it's obviously news, because it adds to the reader's understanding.

And Gorton did apparently make his case, and there were no objections...until others outside the paper objected.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Dear Margaloid:

Nice of you to post on my blog. I hope Iago is doing well. By the way TC is an old friend of ours, he's an unforgetable character who liked to call you "fierce."

Even if Acton made the wrong call, the actual decision to run the comics wasn't so bad he should be fired. When I wrote my column I didn't know about all of the internal disputes among members of the edit board or I probably wouldnt have written the line about it being my last column. If he's fired for a process reason/ failure to talk to his staff first, that's another matter.

Reasonable people can certainly disagree about whether or not it's appropriate for a college paper to run the comics. I'm not trying to be a rebel, Margoid, at least not on this issue. Of the DI columnists only 1 seems to oppose Acton's decision (Brian Pierce) but a few of us oppose the way he went about making the decision.

I wasn't trying to "wrap myself in the bill of rights" but I wouldnt want to write for a paper that would fire someone for running the comics, even if he was wrong he wasn't so clearly wrong that he should be fired.

You should be reminded you that not so long ago you were an obnoxious bored midwestern college student who liked few things more than starting a fuss.

You're obviously right that the 1st amendment doesn't protect people from private citizens giving them hell about what they publish. Still a newspaper isn't fulfilling it's 1st amendment function if the editors live in fear of publishing offensive content.

I hope you have a happy valentines day.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

"You should be reminded you that not so long ago you were an obnoxious bored midwestern college student who liked few things more than starting a fuss."--Josh

Margot was never obnoxious in my presence in all the time that I knew her. I'm afraid that the same cannot be said of you, my friend. Now, I cannot vouch for whether or not she was bored, although I am trying to imagine being with you long term as a young woman....

Hmmm....

Enough of that, now I have to wash my brain out with soap.

On a personal note, I'd love to hear of your adventures since last we spoke, Margot. Josh has my email address.

Tom

3:12 PM  
Anonymous margot said...

tom,

I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I honestly don't believ eI made any ad hominem attacks. I called Gordon's behavior "arrogant" and characterized it as a "publicity stunt" and "little stunt," all of which I still believe are apt descriptions. My criticism isn't based on my evaluation of him as a person. I don't know him.

I agree that alienation and generational tensions contribute to the conflicts in Europe.

Where I would advocate caution is in defending your "liberty" against other private individuals and institutions who haven't overstepped the bounds of their own rights. Muslims are well within their rights to point out that the cartoons are offensive to them and use their right to answer hateful speech with more speech, and I'd hate for an overzealous defense to slip into something that would constitute a chilling effect. That's not an accusation, just my own position re: overzealousness.

reed,

That Gordon himself believed the cartoons worth printing (for newsworthiness or other reasons), he didn't make his case to the editorial board: "Editorial Staff Breaks Ranks"

You tell me: what relevant information do the actual cartoons communicate that the description of them does not? Are all of the papers who chose not to print the cartoons cheating their readers out of necessary information? Nothing is inherently newsworthy. What's the case for these images that most U.S. papers are simply missing?

Josh,

I hadn't read your next most recent post when I wrote my letter. This situation is different than the Horowitz ad--if some group had put up the cash for ad space consisting of the cartoons, I'd be with you demanding that they be printed. This isn't a question of content-censorship of advertisers. I think you said it best: "the Daily Illini ran these ads purely to get noticed."

That's not an issue of press freedoms or newsworthiness, it's arrogance. Which is what I've been arguing all along.

Happy VD to you too.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

Margot,

"I suspect that Gordon knew that the members of the editorial board would agree with the vast majority of professional newspaper organizations in this country that decided not to publish the cartoons. Publishing the cartoons was unnecessary and inflammatory. Gordon unilaterally decided to stage a sophomoric publicity stunt he knew the editorial board would not endorse. If he is fired, it will not be because of his courage, but his arrogance. Do not let him or Rohrscheib, who promises to discontinue his column on principle if Gordon is dismissed, posture as "courageous" martyrs to some imagined opponents of free expression. They are so eager to pose as rebels, they demean the freedoms they invoke."

What's going on in Josh and Acton's minds is an opinion on your part and is based on an assumption that you know the thought processes of your opponents in the argument. While you have a chance to be correct in your assessment of their motives, telepathy is always a dangerous talent to try to use in a political discussion. In addition, your sentence which begins "Publishing the cartoons...." is the proposition of your argument, not proof.

I did not mean for this to turn into a major criticism of your writings. It is just that the rest of your arguments were compelling enough that it detracted from your cause.

Now, as far as defending my liberty goes, I'll have to say that I've had it pretty good. As much as people detract from the situation in America, I feel fortunate that I only have to defend my liberty every decade or two.

The responsibilty of someone living freely in the modern world is not to fuck with those around you, if you can. There are times when holding a "demonstration" to protest a wrong is the way to go however. I consider that Acton publishing the cartoon is such a demonstration and is in the same situation as Cindy Sheehan selling her books in a tent near the Texas Ranch. In both cases, the people involved are making noise and "tweaking" people that they believe are doing something wrong.

I think that the publication is much less important as an informational outlet as it is as such a demonstration.

Sometime I'll have to tell y'all about Marcey's experiences in the Tax Resister movement in Massachusetts--I learned a lot from them.

In any case, I am delighted to talk to you. I remember with particular fondness the wonderful dinner we had when I visited Baltimore years ago when the two of you were working in DC.

[Life is strange for me now, living in a commune in the early 21st Century usually involves people asking me where the minefields around the compound are.]

Tom

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

Margot,

For one, the cartoons transmit the message that the depictions of Mohammed might not be as terrible as one might imagine. By not showing them, it allows the reader to assume the worst. Instead of assuming the role of gatekeeper, shouldn't the media seek to free the information? In other words, instead of taking others' word for it that the cartoons were offensive, can't we allow the readers to decide for themselves? By act as a filter?

The papers that won't print do report the cartoons are offensive. But they don't say *why*, or *how offensive* they are. That part of the story is missing to the reader, who has no way to gather the facts to answer those questions for himself, without seeking an alternative news source. The publication of the cartoons would allow for those questions to be answered.

Ultimately, the reader can find the cartoons online and answer those questions himself. But again, the reader could find just about every substantive news item found in the DI from other sources online as well.

Ultimately, your argument proves too much. If the cartoons are devoid of news, then why are people putting them up on websites? To offend others? Are there that many people looking for a fight? Even if that's the contention, why have the cartoons been among the top searches in Technorati and other blog search engines for the past few days? Is everyone going out of their way to be offended? That hardly seems plausible.

No, people want information to decide this controversy for themselves, without any editorial spin or gatekeeping from the media. The demand to see the cartoons seems to indicate that a great deal of people find them newsworthy.

Also, you might want to look at Gorton and Prochaska's take:

Their take

"All editors present in the newsroom the night before publication learned of our decision to publish the cartoons. There were no objections. Not until they witnessed a backlash from the Muslim community, one that we were prepared for, did the board cower to their demands."

Sounds like they did persuade the board, or at least if there were objections, they were after the fact.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous margot said...

You're right, Tom. That's why I started the paragraph with "I suspect..." I was making what I felt to be a reasonable conjecture, but noting that it was merely my own suspicion. I could have repeated it at the beginning of every sentence, but I trust readers to assume that if I'm writing something, and it's not in quotes, then it is my opinion. I don't presume to know what was going on in Josh or Acton's heads, but their actions and words led me to believe certain things about their motivations. We make these sorts of logical inferences all the time. And yes, it is my opinion that "publishing the cartoons was inflammatory and unncessary." It's a subjective sentence. No more of an unfounded claim or claim to truth than "Chan Marshall is beautiful." I'm more than happy to admit to the rampant flaws in my writing and logic--I just don't think this was an example of them.

I would feel differently about the publication if the editorial staff had collectively decided to frame publication of the cartoons as a "demonstration," say, in some sort of solidarity, however empty, with journalists in other countries who have many fewer protections. But if that was his goal, Gordon deciding to "demonstrate" in the DI is tantamount to me deciding to "demonstrate" by writing a controversial letter to the Michigan Daily signed on behalf of my entire academic unit at U of M, without the consent or even consultation of the rest of the department. I don't think that would merit praise as a defender of free speech.

Anyhow, I've enjoyed this little exchange as well and will get your contact info from Josh.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous margot said...

Thanks for the link, reed. That does give me pause although I suspect that as Josh has noted, there were internal disputes and I'm not convinced that Gorton was acting with the full and informed consent on behalf of the edit board.

I disagree that readers can somehow "decide for themselves...how offensive" the cartoons might be, as if there's an objective, universal standard. I don't find the cartoons personally offensive. I can see where someone might be offended by them, but it wasn't until I read the coverage explaining why people find them "so offensive" that I understood what the cartoons might mean, not just to me, but to someone else. The images can't convey that information, and to the extent that they lead people to believe they're really "not that bad," the images might in fact be quite misleading. Many Muslims believe in hadith that explicity prohibit the pictoral depiction of sacred figures, which is why the primary decration in many mosques is decorative Arabic script. One man's "not that bad," is another's blasphemy.

I maintain that the issue is newsworthy, but the the images themselves aren't a necessary part of responsible coverage. I've never claimed that the ability to find the cartoons elsewhere should have prevented the DI from publishing them, so I don't know why you keep pointing out that the DI's content is available elsewhere. Either a few editors or the staff responsible for the content of the DI made what I believe to be the wrong choice regarding the publication of the cartoons. If readers whose curiousity is piqued by news coverage want to seek out the images, bully for them. Whether or not they merit column inches in the paper is another issue, and one that you and I apparently disagree on.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

Margot:

If a substantial number of readers want to see it to inform, it is news. That's prima facie news.

I don't claim there's an objective standard, quite the opposite. By merely stating the cartoons are offensive, newspapers are substituting their judgment for that of the reader. It is the nonpublishing newspapers who are trying to set a singular standard.

Additionally, the fact that some might be offended by the mere publication of Mohammed is not convincing. We're all offended by a lot of things in the paper, why the lack of sensitivity there?

Or let's put it another way - if fundamentalist Christians were offended by Will & Grace, should NBC stop running it?

4:54 PM  
Anonymous margot said...

No, NBC should stop running Will and Grace because it's miserable. [/kidding]

For the past few years, the most popular annual search engine entries are for "Britney Spears" and "Paris Hilton." Tons of people want to see pornography, but that doesn't make it "prima facie" newsworthy.

I have never argued that the paper shouldn't print the cartoons because they are offensive. I was arguing that a reader might not glean information relevant to their evaluation of the cartoons from their images. However, I don't think readers lack any relevant information in the news coverage provided by every major U.S. and British newpaper.

I don't see how the images convey information necessary to the story. The fact that some readers who read the story will want to see the pictures doesn't make it the responsibility of a news organization to provide them. The fact that this was such a controversial issue merits particularly careful consideration of newsworthiness--NOT kneejerk censorship. I don't think the standard is met in this case.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous tc said...

Well, I'll concede your point concerning your statements, Margot. Sometimes I project emotions that I believe I see onto what is really there, it is possible I did in this case.

I've got a question about Gorton and Prochaska's statement: Which of the editorial board were in the room when they announced their intention? It is quite possible that their statement could be true without implying that they had permission--let's say if only one of the others were there. Without knowing if the entire board were there, the statement has no real value and tells us nothing.

If they originally agreed, then weenied out, they're beneath contempt.

As far as the portrayal of the likeness of the Prophet being forbidden, it is definitely true that it is in some interpretations, and is "not nice" at the very least.

I also believe that the argument that the cartoons were published for information to be severely flawed. The target audience of the DI, (the student body, faculty and the residents of CU) are net-savvy enough to have looked up the cartoons long before they were published. The argument for them being done for information is marginal at best and totally bogus at worst, since the information has virtually no value to the target audience.

I assumed that it was done as a demonstration and opinion because it was on the editorial page. If it was done as information, it has no use. As a demonstration, it is priceless.

Tom

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

Stop shifting the debate. No one is arguing the paper had a responsibility to print them. The issue is precisely the opposite - whether they had a responsibility NOT to print them. We're not debating whether or not a non-publishing paper SHOULD print them, we're arguing whether or not a publishing paper SHOULD NOT have published them.

As for the Spears/Hilton point, are you arguing that the motivation for seeking that out is the same as the motivation for seeking the cartoons? I hope not. That's just stupid.

"I was arguing that a reader might not glean information relevant to their evaluation of the cartoons from their images."

They might not, but that applies to every item the paper prints. Again, you're shifting the burden. The question is whether or not there are enough individuals that will find them relevant such that they become "news."

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

The DI's been Volokh'ed!

Eugene!

4:26 PM  
Blogger Billy Joe Mills said...

Margot,

Your letter today in the DI was very well written and full of style and flare. But, your letter didn't make substantive arguments. You seem to believe that flowerly rhetoric is the argument itself. That might work in the kiddie game, but not with me.

Further, it isn't up to you to decide what is newsworthy to other people. It is clear that there is a reasonable possibility that they are newsworthy, and that is reason enough to print.

Please check out my column from today as a response to all of your arguments, I won't repeat them here(www.billyjoemills.blogspot.com)

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Margot,

I think your article in the DI was dead on. Thanks.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

Margot is a hell of a writer, sometimes she's all flame w/ out much logical support but she she's a good enough writer not many people notice.

Margot - beat up on Billy Joe a while, I'm sure he said something that you wont like. Dear womyn.

2:33 AM  
Anonymous Reed said...

Margot's letter was fundamentally flawed. The basis for all that she wrote was:

"Publishing the cartoons was unnecessary and inflammatory."

We've had this argument here, unfortunately, Margot did not take it to heart. Instead, she chose to treat the readers as fools.

Whether or not the cartoons are unnecessary is precisely the debate. Margot has chosen to skip that part, anoint herself a winner, and move on to chastising Gorton and Prochaska, as well as anyone who supports them.

I'll also add that whether or not the cartoons are inflammatory is irrelevant. There is no journalistic standard to avoid such items. There is no contractual obligation for editors to give inflammatory items extra scrutiny. Indeed, this adjective has no place in this debate. But she needed to toss 2 adjectives in that sentence, in order to keep her quota up.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Felix Frankfurter said...

Remember small children, posting racist images is a "simple act of justice".

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Felix Frankfurter said...

Who was this whole mess good for again?

It seems to me a bunch of people were offended or pissed off and the only people this helps are the students who decided to run the cartoons in this first place and will now talk about their "courage" ad nauseum in personal statements and job interviews.

It is no more courageous to exercise the right to free speech than it is to exercise the right to free expression by streaking down the Quad. At least *that* would be entertaining.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

Felix,

Do you want no news value in the cartoons themselves?

Said Reader John Doe is watching CNN. He sees riots, protests, threats, etc. over cartoons. He wonders "What has these people so upset?"

Wouldn't the cartoons themselves qualify as news under that scenario, as they are better informing the public about current events? Sounds like news to me.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Felix Frankfurter said...

Reed,

The cartoons might be newsworthy if they are placed in some sort of educational and explanatory context. Then people would learn from them and it would be good for someone.

Without that, the stuff is just inflammatory and doesn't make anyone's life better. Except, as I mentioned before, the students who wanted to pull their publicity stunt and get their day in the sun pretending to be John Peter Zenger.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Reed said...

They were placed in explanatory context. Did they not explain they were the subjects of the riots and such?

Then it's news. Quit crying.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous felix frankfurter said...

Reed,

I think the issue here is *why* the comics are offensive which is something fairly complicated that the DI didn't even scratch the surface in explaining.

Of course, sure, people might be curious to see what the cartoons say and are too lazy to go online and find out, but it seems that satiating the curiousity of the lazy is sort of not worth the trouble and agony such a decision causes.

Besides, if we are going to run pictures, print those pictures of Josh up on the table at Murphy's without his shirt. That has some news value!

3:33 PM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

And you dont think this is newsworthy:

http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/02/18/cartoon.roundup/index.html

8:47 PM  
Blogger Don said...

Josh,

You wrote: College newspapers have a great obligation to present extreme perspectives so they can be rigorously scrutinized in academic communities.


I take issue with this. Academic communities do not need college newspapers to present extreme views. These communities are quite capable of seeking out these issues on their own. The damage done in some instances can far outweigh any good. When the DI presents insensitive perspectives, it contributes to the fragmented nature of the campus. Creating divisiveness and stimulating thought are not always the same.

10:05 PM  

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